Members who attended last year’s HARDI conference were told they were going to “evolve” and learn “new pathways to success” in the association’s event slogan.

This year, perhaps because they’re already on that path, they are encouraged to “shift into gear” and told to “prepare to accelerate” this year.

Wholesalers select a history packed Texas city for conference this month

With 1.3 million people, San Antonio has been booming for more than 20 years.

Its Spanish heritage and architecture, as well as landmarks such as the Alamo, attracts an estimated 26 million tourists each year. In addition, the city is home to a number of military operations.

But it also holds the distinction of being one of the nation’s oldest communities, having been established in 1691. Native Americans likely lived there for thousands of years before the Spanish build the fort that would become a colonial city.

The city was named after a Portuguese Catholic priest, known as “Anthony of Padua” or sometimes “Anthony of Lisbon.” By the end of the 18th century, it was the largest Spanish settlement in the Texas territory. By 1860, 15,000 people called San Antonio home.

Erection of railroads throughout the Southwest and across Texas in the 1880s led to huge population growth for landlocked cities such as Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio. But that growth would seem small compared to the explosion San Antonio experienced between 1970 and 2005, when it went from 650,000 to more than 1.2 million in just 35 years.

Today, the city, which maintains a large Hispanic presence, is one of the most cosmopolitan in the Lone Star State. Skyscrapers and other modern structures mix with buildings hundreds of years old in a way that is rare in the region. 

Unlike some cities that seem eager to tear down its history and landmarks, San Antonio embraces its past. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the world-famous Alamo, the site of a famous 1836 battle. Many first-time visitors are surprised to see that the Alamo is not just a small building that once served as a Catholic mission chapel, but a whole compound. It was originally known as the Mission San Antonio de Valero. At various times, it was used by the militaries of Mexico, Texas and the United States before being abandoned in 1876.

In an early example of historic preservation, the Alamo’s restoration was championed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and by 1912, the state allocated funds to repair and enhance the landmark.

The building and surrounding plaza sits in the heart of San Antonio’s downtown. The Alamo Mission is a certified historic landmark that has a long history as a tourist attraction. It is open for tours daily.

Next to the Alamo, the Riverwalk — also known as the Paseo de Rio — may be the city’s most famous attraction. It winds its way along the San Antonio River just a block below street level, and is packed with bars, restaurants and shops. Originally created after a 1921 flood destroyed much of the area, the Riverwalk has become a destination for people the world over. Boat tours also run up and down the river. 

Fans of Mexican cuisine, as well as the hybrid known as Tex-Mex, should find plenty to like, whether dining along the Riverwalk or throughout the city. From high-end steakhouses with “Texas-size” portions to small cafes serving up fine wines and cheeses, dining options are endless.

The Heating, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International’s Dec. 6-9 convention at the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country features a packed schedule of educational seminars and keynote speakers who were picked to offer new perspectives and ideas on making businesses grow.

The association has decided that its convention is too big for just one keynote speaker. It’s bringing three business experts to Texas to inspire and inform members.

Current HARDI President Royce Henderson of the Charles D. Jones Co. said it’s some of the best content he has ever seen at an industry event.

With the midterm elections taking place just a few weeks before HARDI’s annual convention, a lot of members will probably want to hear what Jon Melchi, the association’s government affairs chief, thinks of the results. Regulations that affect the HVAC construction industry could be changed by the results, so you may want to see his briefing at 9:15 a.m. Dec. 7.

Business barometer

The first keynote speech takes place at noon Dec. 7. Chief HARDI economist Alan Beaulieu of ITR Economics will explain where he believes the nation and world economies are heading, and why the recent midterm election may matter less than many members think in terms of their financial success.

At 12:30 p.m. Dec. 8, Robert Stephens will give his perspectives on how technology is impacting business and competition.

You may not know his name, but there is a pretty good chance you know the company Stephens founded: the Geek Squad. What began as a simple college job has become one of the largest computer repair companies in the world, with a 25,000-member staff and locations in every Best Buy store nationwide.

Stephens said he does not use a teleprompter, so his speeches are never the same. He tailors them to his audience and urges them to think in different ways about how they use technology.

Tucker Carlson is a name known to many political news junkies and viewers of “Fox & Friends” on cable TV’s Fox News Channel. He previously appeared on MSNBC’s “Tucker,” was a longtime co-host of “Crossfire” on CNN, and is the chief editor of, a conservative news and opinion website. You may have also caught as a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars.”

HARDI members will have a chance to hear from Carlson at 11:45 a.m. Dec. 9. Carlson is expected to give his opinions on the future of the Republican Party, the Obama administration and what the recent midterm elections mean for the next two years.

Chain of events

Another speaker brought in for the event is Rick Blasgen, chief executive officer of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals. He is scheduled to speak at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 6 and will also appear several times starting at 2 p.m. Dec. 7. He will speak about the suppliers’ place in distribution and making your logistics operation as smooth and possible.

The Affordable Care Act — aka Obamacare — was signed into law more than four years ago, but many companies are still learning the intricacies of this complicated legislation. HARDI has brought back Robinson to explain where things stand. A vice president of employee benefits, Robinson will speak starting at 2 p.m. Dec. 7 on what members can expect regarding the law as its provisions continue to come into force.

From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Dec. 8, HARDI members will have a chance to learn about cultivating customer-focused talent from Jason Young, a longtime manager with Southwest Airlines. The Texas-based company has long been noted for its customer-friendly attitude and policies in an industry that frustrates much of the traveling public.

Today, Young is an author and expert on creating a customer service-focused culture.

HARDI has brought back Mike Marks, co-founder of the Indian River Consulting Group, to discuss how best to apply the findings of the “Distributors’ Role in Demand Creation” study commissioned by the group’s foundation. Marks said many manufacturers will have high expectations and lower patience in coming years. His 10 a.m. Dec. 9 session will explore how distributors can best meet the requirements to succeed in the future.

In addition to the scheduled speakers, HARDI’s many councils and committees are also scheduled to meet during the conference, as are groups which discuss regional trends. And as in past years, HARDI will hold its conference booth program trade show from 2:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Dec. 8.

 For the full conference agenda and speaker list, go to